How Committed Are You to Misery?

How Committed Are You to Misery?

Wolf eye

I recently emerged from a dark night of the soul. That’s what John of the Cross (15th – 16th century) called the suffering of the soul’s purification en route to union with God. (Personally, I think we’re already in union with “G_d”, we just don’t know it, for reasons discussed in this reflection).

The dark night is a time of reckoning and a discovery that what’s keeping you from peace / unity with God / equanimity is you.

When you stop blaming anybody else, circumstances, climate change, or whatever the hell excuse you can muster for feeling that you’re on the short end of the stick.

And wanting a fight. And fighting. With reality. And whomever is within range.

Over and over again.

I was sick and tired of unnecessary suffering.

And I got clear that I wanted to stop it.

It lasted from about midnight when I awoke in a cold sweat through to around 6 am when I decided to get up and have a cup of tea.

My takeaway was that I’ve been unconsciously committed to misery.

In a fight for my life – well, actually, for my ego. This was the source of much suffering. Yet another layer of ego dissolution.

The ego is built to fight, to survive attacks, to defend its worth, and ultimately to establish its own permanent and enduring status.

Which is a hopeless MO because its not and was never intended to be enduring and permanent. It was constructed for survival.

It’s job therefore is to convince us that we’re under siege. Constantly. It works overtime, vigilant in preparing us for the next great disaster, the next challenge that will surely defeat us, or to ensure us that happiness is nothing but a prelude to disappointment. This mind generates narratives about what is going wrong or what could go wrong.

When gurus speak disparagingly about “the mind” this is the mind they are talking about. But we’re not looking for yet another fight with the ego. That’s just ego picking a fight with itself in an endless loop. Rather, it’s an opportunity to be grateful and compassionate with this mind. It has served us well. Usually, too well.

I’d been reading Krishnamurti, a no-nonsense Indian philosopher/mystic, who refused the seduction of being recruited by the Theosophical Society to play their Messiah. On the night of his intended inauguration he told them to pound sand. He wasn’t interested in followers. He left the organization. He saw that it, and all movements, are what egos looks like in a collective system. They are the “mind” of ego collectively manifested, escape strategies from the unbuffered truth of life.

He gained my respect.

His mission was to liberate humans from survival mind so that we might live from a deeper intelligence, of which we are the localized expression. This intelligence lives in the present— enjoying the capacity to see and feel and rest in what is actually happening now rather make interpretations and judgments that have been conditioned by the past.

He asserts that humans are imprinted (hypnotized) by social systems: religion, family, politics, economic and ethnic/racial systems. When we identify with them, they become us. We become them. They are escape strategies. Humans created them so that we wouldn’t have to feel into an existential “emptiness”. But that word is just a word. If we undergo the actual experience of this state we may discover that there is nothing to be afraid of. The state of living without attachments to any inherited or self-generated identity is radically renewing.

“Behold”, says the God of the book of Isaiah, “I am doing a new thing. It springs forth now. Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19).

These various identities, on the other hand, give rise to beliefs and feelings and ways of orienting in the world which necessarily separate subscribers from non-subscribers and from the raw truth of existence as it is. They were, after all, constructed by frightened egos, which are themselves one of the constructed identities. They act as filters that give us the illusion of certainty in an uncertain world.

They were built to avoid. The word means “not void” , as in, anything but the void of living without the safety net of all these identities. Psychologically, I’d add that the ego wants to avoid the solitude of being an individual – living outside the safety of the herd.

Who are we without these identities/escape strategies? The fear underlying ambition, envy, acquisitiveness, self-discipline, addictions, economics, religions, families, nationalism, etc. is that we are nobody, that we don’t belong anywhere, that we are hopelessly lost without them. If you track this fear all the way down it is the fear of dying all alone and death itself. Which to the egoic identity makes a mockery of one’s own, and indeed, the world’s, significance. Therefore, it’s a non-starter and it will (we will) do anything to escape it.

A philosopher like Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) would answer no. Our ego, including all that we identify with are, at bottom, immortality projects. Escape strategies. And since humans can’t honestly face death, we’re hooped. Facing death is impossible. Immortality projects are futile.

Well, Krishnamurti might wonder if Becker, an undeniably brilliant scholar, needed to sit in his own fear of death a little longer and bear the purifying energies of fear instead of becoming its voice.


When Krishnamurti was writing and teaching there wasn’t much sophisticated thinking around psychological and emotional trauma. But his analysis holds up well as it relates to ego psychology. I have written in various places about how we curate a self-protective persona in order to survive mistreatment. What he describes as “emptiness” or an existential void, is similar to both shame ( I am nobody, an empty shell) and the anxiety of being forced to stand on our own before we were developmentally capable. This anxiety later becomes a memory embedded in the nervous system and makes us afraid to be self-defined individuals. Sovereignty, solitude, or aloneness, feels like a threat to our survival. We cannot bear, for example, not to be liked and so we conform to the group consensus.

What the ego defends against are the feelings associated with core beliefs (I don’t matter; I don’t belong; I am bad), which we form when we are unloved. Life becomes inherently a defence contract. Again, our thinking, feeling and actions arise out of this defensive (fight) posture.

Krishnamurti notes that the survival mind (ego) is basically a “memory scroll”. In response to past events, circumstances, and other humans, we scan through the Rolodex of Memories to determine how we should think, feel, and act. We live by memory, what the cult of tribe, peers, family, economic system, government, religion, etc. dictates. We’re stuck in the past, thus blocking a natural intelligence localized as you and me. And we are fiercely committed to these memories as constituting our true self.

We are the past. The present is the past. The future is the past. And the past needs to be defended as real and true.

The future as past shows up as ideals —how we should be, how the world should be – and these ideals themselves creates conflict between what is actual and the ideal. If only I was that I’d be somebody (and not nobody). If only humans were this (and not as we are) we’d find salvation. The gap between how we are and how the world is and our ideals generates conflict and therefore suffering.

So, what’s the alternative?

To live in the present by dissolving, through total awareness without judgment, our attachment to our inherited and self-generated identities. Our true nature, claims Krishnamurti, is dynamic, flowing, responsive to new conditions, spontaneous, unrehearsed, intuitive. This is what life is like when we are in the flow of how things actually are, rather than how they were or how they should be.

This he calls “intelligence”.

So how do I live from this flow state rather than the memory scroll, compulsively defending my kingdom of ego?

Krishnamurti teaches understanding born of awareness.

Understand the whole set up. ( False identifications based in fear; our preferred escape strategies; the deification of ego; the conflict that is inherent in identification because all that you don’t identify with is experienced as threat; seeing how living from memory, according to rules, norms, patterns, rituals and imitation is death masquerading as life.)

In other words, get that life hasn’t really started yet when we’re living in the matrix of fear — a false world, and a false ego.

Get good and finished with the fight, the depression, or the addiction of choice.

Bring awareness to the difference between the memory scroll of ego (mind) and Mind.

Resist the urge to escape: into a new religion, a new guru, a new form of meditation, a new philosophy, a new partner, a new program, a new political party, booze, Facebook, video games, porn.

Sit in the discomfort until it becomes a purifying force burning away attachments.

Resist the urge to self-discipline. Trying harder is a form of suffering. We learned it early in life when we were forced to figure out what others needed us to be so the hurt would stop or the love would start. It didn’t work then. It won’t work now.

Resist the urge to use his teachings as yet another spiritual hack that will improve your life in some way. (Let go of the frame of self-improvement completely, which is inherently conflictual). You don’t need to improve. Any attempt to get from here to there is an escape strategy. We need to sit with the discomfort of what is, bring effortless awareness (Big Mind) to it all, and let this awareness dissolve our past identities.

After all, can you improve upon natural intelligence? Discover, through the purification of undergoing the fear rather than compulsively acting from it, that all is well without these identities)

Be still, attend to what is arising, without trying to change it, categorize it, or have an opinion about it. Simply undergo reality.

You are this natural intelligence, enduring and eternal, localized as “you”.

Give up the fight Bruce/not Bruce.

Bruce Sanguin Psychotherapist

Written by Bruce Sanguin

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